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This Earth Day is different

By Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Michael Shank; The Hill
… Regardless of the myriad ways in which Americans approach Earth Day ’08, it remains substantially different from ’07. What changed in one year? Washington joined the world in tackling climate change. Beyond the irrefutable science, the benefits of pursuing a more sustainable energy footprint were too vast to be ignored. While much work awaits us, the change in attitudes is profound.

The shift resulted from a confluence of factors: the international consensus on climate change, coupled with an unprecedented price of petroleum, violent conflicts in some oil-exporting countries, alternative-energy markets booming abroad and economic fears at home. This proverbial perfect storm created support for measures to improve energy independence/security such as a unifying round of UN talks in Bali, legislation in Congress, and unparalleled private sector investment.

… Outperformed, and fearful of losing future fortunes to foreign entities, the U.S. agreed to a post-Kyoto framework for 2012. Better to be on board and barter standards than watch, sidelined, as international industries innovate. This was noteworthy; America never ratified Kyoto. Bali changed that dynamic, setting in motion a new draft, new commitments, and new players – including the U.S., China and India.

Concurrent with Bali deliberations, Congress hammered out amendments to the Energy Independence and Security Act, which for the first time in 32 years raised fuel efficiency standards.

… Our land offers much renewable energy. Harnessing it sustainably is the key. An energy portfolio comprised of America’s vast untapped renewable energies – solar, wind, cellulosic, biomass and others – could provide needed employment, desired reprieve from volatility of foreign oil markets, and a shot in the economically recessing arm of the U.S.

The private sector understands the opportunity. Between 1980 and 2000, solar power grew worldwide by an annual average of 18 percent, accelerating dramatically since 2002 at nearly 50 percent. America’s solar industry gained mightily too, growing 57 percent in 2007. Wind power has also been growing rapidly. U.S. capacity surged 45 percent in 2007.

What these statistics mean for Americans is explosive growth in businesses and jobs from energy efficiency and renewable energy.

… Moreover, a less energy-intensive, carbon-light footprint can lead to happier and healthier living.

Japanese use less than half the energy Americans do. Yet they rank higher on the U.N.’s Human Development Index, which combines higher life expectancy, relative income, educational level and standard of living.

Americans love competition. We should embrace the challenge and achieve sustainability, environmentally and economically. This year, Washington gets that.

Bartlett is a member of the House Science and Technology Committee. Shank is the government relations adviser at George Mason University’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.
(22 April 2008)

Yale’s Gus Speth calls for shift from U.S. consumer capitalism to solve environmental woes
(transcript, video)
Monica Trauzzi, E&E TV
Will shifting from a GDP-driven society help solve the United States’ environmental problems? In his new book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, James Gustave Speth, dean of the Yale School on environment and forestry, argues that U.S.-style consumer capitalism needs to change in order for any progress on the environment to occur.

During today’s OnPoint, Speth, a former chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and founder of both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute, explains why he is unhappy with the current state of environmentalism. He also gauges the changing level of interest in environmental issues on college campuses throughout the country.

… Gus Speth: … why hasn’t [conventional environmentalism worked]? Well I think what’s basically happened is that we are up against a mighty force which is pushing enormous amounts of economic growth forward at a very rapid rate with increasingly complicated technologies. And we just haven’t been able to cope. And the gains that we’ve made have tended to be overrun by the expansion of economic activity. So, you know, the world economy, during that 40 years, has almost quadrupled in size. And the doubling time of the world economy now is less than two decades, less than 20 years. So in just 15 to 20 years, we’ll have twice as much economic activity on the planet. It took all of history to grow the $7 trillion world economy of 1950. We now add $7 trillion every decade. So, this brings with it, drags into our lives, an enormous potential for environmental destruction.

Monica Trauzzi: And in the book you do say that American-style consumer capitalism must change and some would respond, “Good luck, to that.”

… Gus Speth: … the ideas in the book are not the next steps. The next steps are to get this cap-and-trade legislation, for example, through the Congress and signed by a president. But the next, next steps are to begin to question our obsessive concern with economic growth so that it trumps everything and everything, every proposal has to be trimmed down and trimmed down and cut down and compromised to the point that it’s often quite weak, in order to not have any adverse effects on the economy. We have to question our own pathetic capitulation to consumerism. We’ve had our home size in the U.S. go up 50 percent in the last few decades. The average lot size has gone up by more than that, and yet we still don’t have enough space for all of our stuff. So, we’ve had to create this self storage industry in the United States. And the square footage of the self storage industry would now cover the entire island of Manhattan and the entire city of San Francisco, so much stuff do we have. And it’s all illusory because in terms of real human happiness and real well being, because all the studies say that what we really get fulfillment from and a sense of satisfaction from, are relationships with other people. And buying more and more stuff doesn’t work.

Monica Trauzzi: This is a psychological argument too.

Gus Speth: This is a very psychological argument, but a very real one. And the basic point is that materialism is toxic to happiness, so I think we are going to have to start talking about these issues.
(22 April 2008)
A striking position for someone involved with conventional environmentalism (Speth was founder of both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute). -BA

US Life Expectancy Falls for Large Segment of Population
(text, audio, video)
Rosanne Skirble, Voice of America
While life expectancy in the United States has risen steadily since the 1960s, a new study [published Tuesday] finds that in certain geographic areas of the country, life expectancy has stagnated, and even declined, especially among women.

From 1960 to 2000, life expectancy in the United States rose by seven years for men and six years for women. However, beginning in the 1980s, large geographic disparities began to appear.

The study analyzed health data from every county in the United States. According to lead author Majid Ezzati, Associate Professor of International health at Harvard School of Public Health the “worst off” were among lower income Americans concentrated in the southern states.

He says in these communities race did not seem to affect life expectancy. “It is something associated with the way policies are implemented, with the way health systems are providing health services to people in different parts of the country or not providing services to people.”

Ezzati points to chronic disease related to increases in smoking, high blood pressure and obesity as factors driving the trend. He says while much is known about how to manage these conditions, care is not reaching the people who need it the most. Women have experienced the most serious declines.

Over the last 20 years, life expectancy has either declined or stagnated for one of out every five women compared with four percent of men. Ezzati finds this a grim statistic for an industrialized nation. “We don’t associate worsening of health, worsening of life expectancy with something that happens in a developed high-income country.”

Ezzati says he saw such disparities after the fall of the Soviet Union and after the social networks fell apart in Eastern Europe. “That is the sort of thing that we see over long periods and what is happening with HIV/AIDS in some countries in Africa.”

(22 April 2008)
Related: Life Expectancy Drops for Some U.S. Women (Washington Post)

Says Clark Williams-Derry at Sightline:

Unfortunately, the news that rich Americans are healthier than poor Americans is a bit of a dog-bites-man story at this point — it’s surprising to, well, just about nobody. Same goes for the trends; few will be shocked to learn that health disparities and wealth disparities are widening more or less in tandem. Is it disappointing? Sure. But unexpected? Not so much.

What I do find surprising, though, is the [NY Times] article’s blinkered, incomplete view of how income inequality and health disparities are linked.